Why the Macan lives up to Porsche’s bizarre naming convention

Published: 20 February 2012

Porsche must by now be used to the stunned silence every time it announces the name of a new model. Last week the news that its baby SUV would be called Macan was greeted by a global shrug of super-Gallic proportions, and equally unsurprising was the risible ‘explanation’ that the word is ‘derived from’ the Indonesian for tiger (Blah blah suppleness, blah blah power, blah blah fascination…). I mean, ‘fascination’? Indonesian tigers may be known for suppleness but are they also notoriously fascinating?

But we will get used to Macan and we will forget Indonesian tigers, just as we got used to Cayman and forgot about Louisiana crocodiles (or was it alligators?). Just as we thought Panamera sounded glibly Central American, Boxster inanely utilitarian, Cayenne randomly condimentary, yet have allowed each to become synonymous with the vehicles they represent.

Just like with human babies, the naming process is inert until gifted with the oxygen of personality.

Take Porsche’s icon, the 911. You may perhaps be wondering if there exists within the walls of a Zuffenhausen marketing office somebody who really wants to rebrand that car – someone who’s been cramming up on the names of Guatemalan hedgehogs and Senagalese fruitbats in search of a shortlist to pitch to his bosses before they launch the next generation in 2018. And if such a man exists then you may feel him guilty of sacrilege for daring to change the automotive scriptures.

For 911 has always been 911, surely? Well, yes and no. In reading CAR Magazine’s first test of the very first 911 back in March 1965 I am reminded that it was not supposed to have been called 911 in the first place; when it was shown at Frankfurt in 1963 it was the Porsche 901, but Peugeot proceeded to patent every three-digit name with a zero in the middle.

You can imagine at that point that Porsche didn’t hire a marketing agency to research reptiles and kitchen ingredients. They merely shrugged and changed the zero to a one.

The car – and its personality – did the rest.

The moral? Macan will not be judged a great name or a rubbish one until we are able to make that same judgement on the car that wears it.

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies